GEAR UP is a funding program to help at-risk students bridge the gaps in their lives to cross into opportunities they didn’t believe in before. Unfortunately, many of these kids don’t find access to the resources they need.

What I Wish My Teacher Knew

I am that kid in the back row.

The one who puts her head down when you call on me.

I am the one who turns my work in late, who does not like group work, and who missed 14 days in the first semester.

I am easy to ignore since I ace my tests and do not disrupt the class.

You see me. But do you really see me?

I am shy and don’t know how to ask for things because I don’t think I deserve them.

Im tired from working the closing shift at my full-time job.

The perfectionist who takes care of my sick grandfather while my grandmother is at work because they have always taken care of me.

You also don’t know, but my grandparents raised me on $12,000 a year. They took me in because my parents chose drugs over me and my brother. If I don’t go to work at the restaurant, I usually don’t eat dinner. My granny fixes oatmeal most days of the week because it’s cheap. I write poetry or read a book so I don’t have to think about my grumbling stomach. My brother, at 19, is already gripped by our parents’ addictions. He dropped out of school five years ago because for him, it was a prison.

To me, it is an escape.

I need to be free. I want so much in this life. Please. Help.


That hurts to read, doesn’t it? It is also painful to write, only because I know that there are so many more children who have it so much worse than I did. This was my silent plea in high school. At 16 years old, I worked as a waitress for $2.13 an hour for 40-45 hours per week. I moved out so I wouldn’t be a burden to my grandparents anymore. Struggling to pay rent, I barely kept my GPA up, and it was difficult to find my place. I wanted to go to college, but I didn’t even know where to begin. Consequently, when I got a flyer about the ACT, I couldn’t afford it. Resources? I didn’t know anything about that. I had no way to get to local colleges to apply.

The only reason I am here as an educator now is because one of my teachers “saw” me. 

The Invisible Children

Unfortunately, so many children slip through the cracks into anonymity if there are no programs in place to identify these children and offer them the support they need to escape circumstances beyond their control. In 1998, such a program was instituted: The Gaining Early Awareness And Readiness For Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP). This federally-funded program awards funding each year to help our students make it to college and find their own better future.

According to the National Council for Community and Education Partnerships, GEAR UP “services include a suite of academic, social, and planning support as students progress from the middle grades through high school graduation, and often into the first year of college.”  Both states and local partnerships can apply for Gear Up funds, and Congressional funding has increased from 100 million to over 350 million since 1999. The program identifies cohorts of 7th-graders that are at-risk based on their economic standing; if a school has over 50% free-and-reduced lunch population, then it is a good candidate for these six-year grants. GEAR UP goals are all about creating a campus-wide culture that believes college is the key to success:

  1. increasing the postsecondary expectations and readiness of students
  2. improving high school graduation and postsecondary enrollment rates
  3. raising the knowledge of postsecondary options, preparation, and financing among students and families.

WhyTry meets GearUp 

In other words, you don’t just get a check to throw money at an issue. GEAR UP funding requires a comprehensive support system for K-12 programs, with a special emphasis on identifying and mentoring students who receive little support from outside the school setting. Gear Up funding can be used for umbrella services such as professional development, classroom pacing support, mentoring, tutoring, college financial aid, college planning, career plotting, and engagement programs for parents that help with the application and enrollment processes colleges require. It takes a village to raise these kids, and GEAR UP funding is all about using community resources to help children succeed. 

Imagine if we could give these students the lifeline they need to get out of poverty. You know that you need to smartly spend your money to help this cohort, but have you thought of the professional development you can do? Effective training practices benefit the entire school community. If you’re tired of listening to soul-sucking speakers on staff development days, then check us out instead. We can put your GEAR UP funds to use in ways that will actually help your students instead of torturing your staff.

Why Try and Resilience For Youth are two programs we provide to support educators across all levels in providing social and emotional learning opportunities for the students. Both have been funded by GEAR UP grants across the United States. In order to help students make connections and bridge the gaps to gain access to higher education, they have to receive emotional support for dealing with the challenges of life.

College and Career Readiness

College and Career Readiness is not only reaching a certain reading level and math capability. It’s about developing the emotional maturity and interpersonal skills to function in a team. It’s about developing the resiliency needed to cope and work through the speed bumps and curves in the road. Kids need social and emotional support and learning that historically have been provided through other means, either explicitly or secondarily. Now it must be a focus in order to reach these at-risk students.

Our staff developments are designed to energize and invigorate. You’ll get training in our three cornerstones: relationships with your students, relevance in the classroom, and resilience. We bring something to the table for everyone, from the newest teacher to the most veteran administrator. 

Multi-Year Approach

WhyTry is working with several districts to create cohorts of students that are learning the skills and concepts of our social and emotional learning as they enter high school. They enhance those skills from year to year until ultimately, in their senior year, they can peer mentor the incoming underclassmen in the school.

Ultimately, our lives are made up of a series of decisions we make and with each decision certain opportunities open up while others may close. Unless we help these students, facing major trauma and circumstances, their doors of opportunity will seemingly close on them. Sadly, they will give up. Furthermore, they will make easy and fast choices that enter a cycle of diminished self-esteem and hopelessness. However, we can bridge that gap by using the GEAR UP funding on developing social and emotional learning to better understand their world and the one they are about to enter as adults.


ACT, I. (2007). Using EPAS[TM] to Evaluate School-Based Intervention Programs: GEAR UP. 

Case Study. ACT, Inc. ACT, Inc. Retrieved from

Capizzi, L. M., Hofstetter, C. H., Mena, D. D., Duckor, B., & Xiaolu Hu. (2017). Promoting 

Low-income Students’ College Readiness, Well-being, and Success: A GEAR UP Counseling Program Study. Journal of School Counseling, 15(3), 1–26. Retrieved from

Ellis, J. M., & Helaire, L. J. (2018). The Effects of Adolescent Self-Regulated Learning on 

Engagement in a College Access Program: An Exploratory Study. AERA Open, 4(1). Retrieved from

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